Colorado is one of those ideal states that offers everything an outdoor enthusiast could want – plenty of sunshine and four full seasons, access to beautiful rivers, hiking and biking trails – not to mention the Rocky Mountains and wide open spaces. The towns and cities in the state range in size and diversity and are known for a variety of attractions. The northern city of Evans, located along the South Platte River, is one of the most resilient and enticing of them all.
Founded in 1867 with a modest population of 400, Evans now has over 22,000 residents and is the second largest city in Weld County. Located south of Greely at U.S. Highway 85 and U.S. Highway 34 connecting to Denver and Nebraska, Evans is home to the University of Northern Colorado, and is only an hour’s drive to the Denver International Airport.
When you drive into the city, you can still see remnants of its history as a wild west town with a community feel. It remains today what it was in those early days – a great place to live, a great place to work, and a great place to play.
“It’s a hard-working community that values family and respects everyone,” says Paula Mehle, Economic Development Manager for the city of Evans. “It’s a great location to start and raise a family and get an education, or even retire. It has a great age range and amenities nearby, and access to national sports teams and cultural activities without having the fast pace of a major metropolitan area. You feel the separation of the slower pace and feel more relaxed.”
Originally Evans was known as more of a bedroom community but it has recently grown into a more balanced one, mixing residential appeal and employment opportunities. The city has been working hard to attract businesses and residents to the area by demonstrating what makes it such a great place to live and work.
The city has the same struggle that affects communities nationwide, and that is finding the workforce to support business needs, but they have the advantage that plenty of people want to come to Colorado just for the quality of life and strong work-life balance in the state. “Many employers in the State of Colorado believe in that and so they are happy to get employees that are willing to work hard and play hard,” says Mehle. “Many employers offer flexible work schedules and family time to go and relax and enjoy the recreational activities in the area,” she says.
Evans also offers a variety of housing options to match the various income levels and skill levels of the workforce, and for businesses looking at the area – they can easily find employees who are just starting their careers, to those at the senior executive level. Apartment vacancies are at a mere one and a half to two percent, and they can’t build houses fast enough in the area.
“The average house right now is only on the market for 30 days in Evans,” says Mehle. “There’s still low inventory, and it’s due to a combination of the excitement of the new businesses coming to the Evans area and the overall growth in Northern Colorado.”
Evans is home to many types and sizes of businesses, including large industries like energy production – both oil and gas and alternative energies – agriculture, manufacturing and telecom services, as well as small to mid-sized businesses such as medical imaging, warehousing, health and wellness, education, insurance and banking services, and construction.
“It’s one of the fastest growing areas in the nation, bringing not only the oil and gas and the agricultural [sectors], but advanced manufacturing is really starting to boom up in our area as well,” explains Mehle. “With those businesses coming in you’ve got demand on the housing industry, which then makes a demand for the contracting construction industry, so those people are coming to the area and they’re needing housing as well.”
As an example of the growth, Cimarron Energy, who manufactures equipment for pulling oil and gas from the ground, is constructing a 9,200-square foot expansion on its industrial building on 42nd Street, and Smuckers is also building a $340 million dollar manufacturing facility for its Uncrustables product in nearby Longmont, which will bring about 200 jobs to the area. “We’re more than just Budweiser in this region,” laughs Mehle.
Currently, the area has two urban renewal projects underway. The first centers around the rejuvenation of the historic Evans area. In 2013, a flood that was described as a “500 year flood” because of the rarity of the occurrence ended up destroying a portion of the city, including completely wiping out two mobile home parks. One of the parks has since re-opened. Thankfully no lives were lost in the flood, and it resulted in really bringing the community together and showed how resilient it is on the whole.
New housing, property improvements and additional buildings such as the construction of a new library and cultural facility are all part of the project as well.
The city also opened its largest public investment project on Tuesday, June 19th, a waste water treatment plant. “The overall cost was $43 million dollars of which five percent was grant funded,” shares Mehle. “This new facility is the largest infrastructure project in the history of Evans. It consolidates the city’s two lagoon systems plants in a single state of art facility and is designed with capacity and expansion opportunities to handle the city’s future growth.”
The city also removed a levee to help the Platte River flow better and prevent future flooding, and had to elevate baseball fields, build new playgrounds, and essentially complete an entire facelift of the city’s main park – Riverside Park. This five-year project, which will be completed this fall, has been highly anticipated.
“We do host baseball and softball tournaments through most of the year, so to be able to get that back open and bring visitors from not only outside the region but, depending on the tournament, from outside the state, will be wonderful,” explains Mehle. “We hope to be able to bring in some additional businesses to support them when they’re here visiting our community and maybe a few will see it as a great community and consider moving to Evans.”
The second urban renewal area is one that surrounds the U.S. Highway 85 corridor, which the city considers to be the one with the most interest and most potential to attract retail and employment opportunities due to its visibility and lot sizes.
“We are working hard this year to find ways to enhance that corridor and working with CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) to make improvements to the right of way to make it more attractive, as well as working with the business and property owners along the area,” explains Mehle. “Any time you’re along a highway, the opportunity to take advantage of all the traffic coming through for retail and restaurants, and also the proximity for employment – being able to get the workforce in and out of their site faster – makes it the perfect location for that.”
The city is also exploring ways of amending its codes in the future to make it more business-friendly and to support the market demand along that corridor. “Our Council is really business-friendly and like to work with employers to bring business to the area,” says Mehle.
The mayor is a business owner himself, so he understands the business community, and several council members are business owners and government officials in their professional capacity, so they are very considerate of cost and time. “I think that makes a big difference when you are working with businesses owners and developers looking to come into an area, that they know that there are elected officials that understand what their needs are and are willing to work with them to make things happen,” shares Mehle.
Numerous programs have also been established to support small businesses. Working with the Small Business Development Center, the city offers classes to people thinking of starting a business and those wanting to grow their business. They send a monthly newsletter about upcoming classes, highlight business resources and community information, and host an annual business awards dinner, recognizing the accomplishments of local business owners and acknowledging their contribution to the economy. “Even though they have smaller numbers of employees, when you add them all up, small businesses really make a big difference in a community,” says Mehle.
Other economic development tools the city is utilizing are as straightforward as relationship building with site selectors and social media, and as innovative as pursuing government programs. Evans was recently approved by the federal government for the “Opportunity Zone” program, which is meant to increase interest by investors into certain census blocks by getting up to 100 percent of their capital gains tax related to the project waived.
To cover all possible angles for growing the economy and encouraging people to put down long-term roots, the city is also working with the Employment Services Office of Weld County as well as with the Greeley-Evans School District and Aims Community College to connect businesses and students to one another through the development of intern and apprenticeship programs. The Greeley-Evans School District is working to develop a program in which students first start out as summer interns, then during the school year, transition to apprenticeships which could then lead to a full-time position upon graduation.
With this abundance of opportunities and such a strong and vibrant quality of life, Evans, Colorado truly does have something for everyone.